New Year, New You – Right? Not if you’ve only given yourself 21 days to make the change.
With February here you may be wondering what happened to your New Year’s Resolutions. While you may have started 2014 with the best intentions of making positive lifestyle changes – like making healthier food choices, exercising more or drinking less alcohol – these attempts at behaviour change are often a distant memory when January comes to a close. While conventionally it is thought to take 21 days (or 18 or 28 depending on what you are reading) to change a habit, new research shows in actual fact it may take three times as long. According to the research from the University College London, on average it took participants 66 days to change a behaviour and as many as 265 days for some. Unsurprisingly, the study found that when it comes to behaviour change everyone is different with some individuals grasping hold of new behaviours sooner than others. Some habits are also a lot easier to stick to than others. When you think about it, these findings are a lot more logical than assuming it is just as easy to eat a handful of nuts each day as it is to complete a daily 10km run when you haven’t even run a 1km since high school.
So where did the 21 days come from? It is thought to have come from a 1960s self-help book by cosmetic surgeon Dr Maxwell Maltz. In his book Psycho Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life, Maltz recommended people practice positive behaviours and self-affirmations for 21 days in order to make them habitual. Constant repetition of this has made the “21 days to change a habit” idea a fact. But developing a new habit really isn’t that simple – it involves asking your brain to learn a new behaviour and that isn’t easy. So, to help your brain commit to the healthier habits, follow these tips:
- Identify it: Develop healthier habits by getting to the source of what triggers your unhealthy habits. Becoming aware of what triggers your behaviour will make you better equipped for the change process.
- Replace it: Lose the late night snacking by replacing it with another habit such as practicing yoga or reading a book. Replacing the negative behaviour with something else is an easier process than following the idea of trying to break an old habit.
- Repeat it: You’ll be most successful at developing a new habit if you repeat the same action at the same time each day. Create yourself a new ritual. Alarm goes off, you roll straight out of bed, dress for your run and head out the door. Forget the snooze button and just get up! Eventually it will be easier to just go for than run than to make the decision to do something else.
- Reflect on it: Reflect on your progress at the end of each day so you can make improvements for the next days. This process isn’t about being negative or self-critical. It’s about acknowledging what you have done well and what you still need to work on so that you can achieve the desired behaviour change.
How are you going with your New Year’s Resolutions?